Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays Everyone!

In a spur-of-the-moment decision, I decided to take a week off from blogging and will return Monday, January 2.

Enjoy your time with your loved ones, which is what I'll be doing!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Movie Reviews: “La La Land,” “Nocturnal Animals” and “Passengers”

  La La Land
  Rated PG-13

A jazz pianist and aspiring actress fall in love and their careers take off as a result.

La La Land is like a musical from the 1940’s, but even better due to current technology (better sound, cinematography, etc). The scenery is beautiful, the story is sweet and Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are talented and captivating. I highly recommend seeing La La Land.

   Nocturnal Animals
   Rated R

A wealthy galley owner receives a manuscript from her ex-husband that causes her to examine her past.

Nocturnal Animals is fascinating, mesmerizing and creepy. It’s also a bit confusing since the viewer doesn’t know if scenes are from the book or from the main character’s past. Visually stunning, Nocturnal Animals is a must-see film.

Rated PG-13

On a 120-year long journey to another planet, Jim is awoken from hypersleep 90 years too early and is forced to figure out how to solve this dilemma.

Although the movie is very different from what the preview leads one to believe, we loved Passengers. I don’t want to say anything more about it because it would spoil the movie.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Book Review: “Three Sisters, Three Queens”

Three Sisters, Three Queens
Philippa Gregory

Three Sisters, Three Queens is the story of King Henry VIII’s sisters, Margaret and Mary and his first wife Katherine of Aragon.  Told from Margaret’s viewpoint, a preteen when she met the older, more sophisticated Katherine, Margaret envied, yet emulated Katherine. A marriage between Katherine and Arthur Tudor, Henry’s older brother, made the women sisters, but competition and rivalry ensued. All three women lived difficult lives, and while they loved each other, they refused to support one another.

I’m a Philippa Gregory fan, have read many of her novels and am never disappointed. While I’m entertained, I’m also acquiring knowledge about English history. If you’re interested in a different perspective on King Henry VIII, learning more about the women in his life or seeing what royal life was like in the 16th century, Three Sisters, Three Queens is the book for you!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Home: Philips Hue Lighting System

Form more information on this product, click here

Plug the hub into your home wireless router, install the light bulbs
and download the app to activate the system. It can be upgraded to
include up to 50 bulbs and/or colored bulbs

the hue app

Using the app is pretty straightforward

One of the benefits of being married to someone who works in IT (Information Technology) is that Kevin keeps up on the latest technology and often brings it into our lives. His latest gadget is the Philips Hue Lighting System. It’s an LED wireless lighting system that includes a hub, two light bulbs and an app that allows us to control the system using a smart phone. For those not into technology, it means we can control those two lights even if we’re not home.

To be honest, I didn’t think the lighting system was something we needed, but appreciate it now that we have it. It’s nice to be able to turn on the lights for the dog when we’re out later than expected, to have lights on at varying times when we’re out of town or to come into a lighted house. The Philips Hue Lighting System is a gem!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Style: Biker Elements

Truth and Pride jacket (old), Soft Joie top, AG jeans (similar),
Rebecca Minkoff boots, Illesteva sunglasses (similar),
3.1 Phillip Lim handbag (similar)

On our son’s recommendation, Kevin and I just started binge watching Sons of Anarchy, the 2008-2014 television series about a biker gang living in Central California. Though I don’t aspire to be in a motorcycle gang, I have to admit I like elements of biker style-especially the leather jackets and boots.

When I saw these studded biker boots, I couldn’t resist buying them. They are similar to a pair by Givenchy but at a much lower price point. Paired with grey jeans, a leather jacket and a traditionally cut, snake print shirt, this outfit is edgy, but doesn’t make me look like a Sons of Anarchy extra!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Cooking and Entertaining: Lauren Conrad's Eggnog Cookies

Lauren Conrad's Eggnog Cookies

Aside from alcoholic beverages, one of my “rules” is that I don’t drink calories. I drink black coffee and unsweetened tea, and don’t consume juice, soda, milk, etc. One of my few exceptions is buying eggnog during the holiday season and adding it to my coffee. All I can say is that eggnog is amazing.

So when I saw Lauren Conrad’s recipe for eggnog cookies, I knew I had to try them. These cookies are similar to sugar cookies, but are richer and have a hint of nutmeg. The only thing that could make these cookies better is eating them with an eggnog latte!

the ingredients

Whisk together the dry ingredients

Though the recipe didn't say to, I combined the egg yolks, eggnog and
vanilla before adding it to the butter/sugar mixture

I didn't want to bake the cookies that day, so I scooped out the dough,
 chilled it in the refrigerator and placed the dough balls in the freezer. I
added 1-2 minutes to the baking time since I placed frozen dough
directly on the parchment-lined baking sheets

Sprinkle the cookies with (freshly grated) nutmeg immediately after
they come out of the oven

Click here for the recipe

Monday, December 12, 2016

Four Star Finds: Holiday Seasonal Favorites 2016

my 2016 holiday favorites!

When I lived in temperate California, I didn’t really understand seasonal foods. Sure, we ate more salads in summer and soups and stews in winter, but I didn’t really comprehend the appeal of pumpkin spiced items in autumn, lemon-flavored items in spring and especially holiday treats. In my mind, treats are appropriate year round.

Now that we live in an area with true seasons, eating heartier foods with stronger flavors makes sense during cold weather periods. Spicier foods seem to warm and comfort the soul on frigid days and nights!

The two items I recently discovered are from Trader Joe’s-One is their Chocolate Mint Flavored Black Tea. Though I like their Candy Cane Green Tea (click here to view the post), I prefer black tea, so this is my new go-to. Pistachio Pomegranate Crisps are my other favorite. They’re sweet and savory and go perfectly with a mild cheese. Be sure to try these items before they’re gone!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Travel: Madrid, Spain

In October, Kevin and I went to Spain for vacation. It was my first time to this amazing, beautiful country and Kevin’s second. Until I traveled there, I thought Great Britain, Italy and France were the go-to places for Europe and had no idea how much I would love Spain. It’s full of culture, history and friendly people, has outstanding food and weather and is very affordable compared to the other three countries. I highly recommend visiting Spain!

Our trip began and ended in Madrid, which, to me, was a great place to begin because it eased us into Spanish culture. Many of the people who live or work in Madrid speak English, and we got by because some of my high school Spanish and Spanish I picked up by living in California returned to me.

Since Madrid is the Spanish capital, it has many attractions, which include the Museo del Prado (Spanish National Museum), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Spain’s national modern art museum), Palacio Real (Royal Palace of Madrid), and Real Jardin Botanico (Royal Botanic Gardens). I’ve included some of our highlights below:

Kevin outside the Palacio Real-it was beyond beautiful inside

I had to take a picture with this Van Gogh at the
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

We took a picture outside the Del Prado
since photography isn't allowed inside.
This museum houses the Royal Family's art
collection for works created before 1881.
We took a private guided tour and liked our
guide so much that we also booked her for the
Reina Sofia

peppers at the Jardin Botanico

I loved the tapas

Spanish ham for sale at the Mercado de San Miguel,
a giant food market with fresh and prepared foods

We had churros and hot chocolate at Chocolateria San Gines-both
were to-die-for

A photograph taken outside the Reina Sofia. Again,
indoor photography was not allowed. This world-class
museum is a must-do

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Movie Reviews: “Arrival,” “Dr. Strange,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” & “Manchester by the Sea”

Rated PG-13

A linguistics professor is part of an elite team that interacts with aliens after 12 spaceships land on Earth in different locations.

I liked Arrival, thought it showed true human nature and liked its message. At the beginning, it was a bit confusing because the story is told nonsequentially, but this is a film well worth watching!

Dr. Strange
Rated PG-13

After a horrific car accident, Dr. Stephen Strange is unable to return to work as a neurosurgeon. He seeks a healer (The Ancient One) in Nepal who teaches him the mystic arts, and Strange finds himself in a battle against evil forces.

Seeing Dr. Strange is a great break from reality. It has fantastic special effects, is witty, and is just plain fun!

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Rated PG-13

Based on the J.K. Rowling book (which I haven’t read), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them chronicles Newt Scamander’s New York adventures in the 1930s.

Like the Harry Potter series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them documents the adventures of witches and wizards who must also exist in a “Muggle” world. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the ending, I thought this movie moved a bit slowly at the beginning to warrant a higher rating. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, though, this is the movie for you!

Manchester by the Sea
Rated R

After the death of his brother, Lee returns to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea to become his 16 year-old nephew’s guardian. While there, he must deal with the circumstances that forced him to leave his family and forge a life in Boston.

SPOILER ALERT: Manchester by the Sea is an excellent film, the type of film that will be honored during awards season, but it’s a very heavy, depressing film.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Book Review: “Modern Romance”

Modern Romance
Aziz Ansari

Though it seems an unlikely pairing, comedian Aziz Ansari teamed up with a sociologist to explore today’s dating world. Unlike their grandparents (who dated someone who lived nearby. and if both parties seemed like decent people, quickly married, and started a family), today’s young people are seeking their soul mates, thus marrying much later in life. To complicate the matter, technology has given singles many more options. Will young people find their hearts’ desires or are thy doomed to a life of serial dating?

I read Modern Romance at the suggestion of my son, who I later found out hadn’t read it when he recommended it to me. Had I known, I probably wouldn’t have given it a chance. I’m glad I didn’t know, because this book is fascinating. It’s interesting to me to see how different generations and people in different countries approach dating, love and marriage. While Modern Romance is basically a sociology book, it’s also highly entertaining and funny.

BTW-At my suggestion, my son read Modern Romance, loved it and confirmed much of what Ansari asserts dating is like!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Home: Holiday Decorations 2016

Rather than being color-coordinated with a theme, our
Christmas tree is a hodgepodge of ornaments-from
my childhood, vacations, purchases, Sean's craft projects,
gifts and some from my grandma

I have mixed feelings about decorating our home for Christmas. On one hand, I like our collection of decorations and think they make our home look festive, but I also think this particular home looks better with fewer accessories. My compromise has been to display only some of our decorations, those that we are very fond of or that have special meaning to us. I know that I’ll be ready to take down the decorations on December 26th, but I’m pretty happy with the way our home looks now!

the throw pillow and holiday coasters add a warm touch to the living room

the mantle is a bit over-the-top, but in a good way

two of Sean's art projects from when he was young

a little scarf on this ceramic fox makes it look festive

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Style: An Unexpected Sweater

Splendid sweater, Madewell pants (old), Ray-Ban sunglasses (similar),
Relic necklace (old), Loeffler Randall handbag (different color),
Vince Camuto booties

Sometimes I find great clothing in the most unexpected places. While I was shopping in the Splendid store, I saw a fringe sweater with a lace bottom on a mannequin and said to the salesperson, “It’s too bad that sweater doesn’t come in adult sizes.” She replied, “You might be surprised. We have quite a few adults who buy it for themselves.” She provided the impetus to try it on, and surprisingly, it fit. It’s a fabulous sweater-cute, comfortable and very reasonably priced.

Shown here with slim fitting cargo pants, toeless boots, an antique necklace and Ray-Ban Clubmaster sunglasses, this outfit is the right mix of edgy and feminine. It’s casual, yet stylish and perfect for a busy day in the city!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Cooking and Entertaining: Sarah's Salsa

Sarah's Salsa is so delicious

Moving to Boston has made it difficult to eat one of my favorite comfort foods, chips and salsa. Though Boston has excellent food, the salsas served here aren’t to my taste because they tend to be a bit sweet. I have a salsa recipe, but it’s more of a pico de gallo (chunky) salsa, and I wanted a salsa more like what I would get at a Mexican restaurant.

The solution was to learn to make my own restaurant-style salsa. My cousin’s fiancĂ©e shared her recipe, which is delicious and easy to prepare. Now I can have a taste of home whenever I’d like!

the ingredients

When chopping the chilies, be sure to use gloves

I add only half of the chilies initially, taste the salsa
and add more chilies if needed


Sarah’s Salsa

 tomatoes, diced
10 oz.  Rotel Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies
1  onion, diced
1 bunch  cilantro, leaves only
2   jalapeno chilies, diced with seeds and membranes removed
1  habanero chili, diced with seeds and membranes removed
1  serrano chili, diced with seeds and membranes removed
1/2   lemon, juiced
1 clove  garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp.  lemon pepper
1 tsp.   salt
1/2 tsp.  pepper

Combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse until chunky.  Adjust salt, pepper, lemon pepper and lemon juice to taste.